Written by : Amna AlMadani
Article in brief: The author studies the effect of genes versus upbringing on human behavior, and what if one of them overrules the other?
René Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”, or I am therefore I think. I smile because I’m happy or I’m happy because I smile? I eat to live or live to eat? We all have different perspectives, whether it rests in an extreme black and white logic or a calm grey area in between. Most of these questions don’t have one right answer but a combination of both for they intersect with each other at some point.
We naturally accept balance and shun extreme views. However, the chicken or the egg? Who came first? It is a question that might drive us into madness. Although there are several answers based on hypothesis presented by scientists on which came first, there is still not one unanimous decision about it. Another question that is still baffling us humans and science is the case of Nature Vs. Nurture. Are we ruled by our genes or our upbringing? Again, the answer is both. However, which defines us more?
In an attempt to answer this question, geneticists have studied identical twins who were separated at birth. Imagine two physical carbon copies of each other who share the same genes then grow up with meeting different people, and face different upbringings, circumstances and lifestyles. Identical twins, even if they share the same exact physical attributes and some character traits, still have their own thoughts. So they’re not really confined by their identical genes, right?
A study that followed identical separated twin brothers named “Jim” found striking similarities other than the similar names the brothers were given by their adoptive parents. Jim Lewis and Jim Springer grew up not aware of the other’s existence, they both got married twice to women named “Linda” and “Betty”, both named their pet dog “toy”, both named their son “James”; the only difference is one Jim named his son James Allan while the other Jim named him James Alan.
You might think this is just some eerie coincidence; perhaps it might be. Yet similar names isn’t the only attributes the twins shared. Both Jims had a habit of leaving love notes to their wives throughout the house. Both suffered from migraines and shared the habit of biting their fingernails. The similarity goes on and doesn’t end here. However, this doesn’t mean that they are exactly the same person; they share the same genetic code but they did display slight differences that set their individuality. For example, one Jim was more comfortable expressing vocally while the other was more into writing. Remember that all of this took place while both of them led different lives and they only met at the age of 39.
Does it really matter if genetics or upbringing ruled us more than the other? The fear is that people will start believing that if we as humans were predestined biologically to behave in a certain manner, then why be blamed for our misconduct, as there appears to be no choice in this matter. A certain debate about this puts into light the nature of aggression in males. Some go to the extent where they hint that rape coming from men must be excused or not punished, because men are more inclined to commit it because of their given nature.
Here comes again the problem of the egg and the chicken, it won’t affect us if one came before the other, yet what will happen if a rapist was dismissed from a case because he was predestined to act this way? What happens when a woman is only charged because she’s not genetically modeled to behave in such a way? This is in no way about gender equality. Men might be blamed of harassment if they hit a woman because they’re physically stronger. Switch the roles and you might see the numbers of sympathizers decrease because woman don’t pose a threat to a man, the natural born aggressor. To forget the act of aggression itself and judge according to a genetic norm is worrying.
The years will pass and there are studies that might prove the opposite that the situation controls us more, that the upbringing we had is the force that will create our reaction. “Raised by a criminal, she became a criminal.” Or “Her father was a criminal, she carries a gene of a criminal.” Is it wise to bring this debate and implement it in a legal system? Should we stop asking this question all together?
“Curiosity killed the cat” or Curiosity gave Newton’s apple a meaning?
What I’m sure of comes in the words of Vincent Van Gogh “…there is nothing in the world as interesting as people, and one can never study them enough.”
- Myers, David. “Nature, Nurture, and Human Diversity.” Exploring Psychology. Michigan: Worth Publishers, 2011. . Print.
- Neer, Katherine. “How Twins Work.” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, 22 Sept. 2005. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/genetic/twin1.htm>.
- To, Yen. “Is Rape Culture Human Nature or Nurture?.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/yen-to/rape-culture-_b_4094920.html>.